This imposing old tumbledown, heritage building in Georgetown, Penang used to be the Shih Chung School but actually has a much longer and interesting history. The once glorious mansion was called Goh Chan Lau (literally meant five-storey bungalow) by the local Chinese and was built by millionaire Cheah Tek Soon, founder and partner of Penang Khean Guan Insurance Company (the first Chinese insurance company in the Straits Settlement in year 1885).
The Cheahs are one of the big five Hokkien families in the state. In 1908, the building was sold off to Tye Kee Yoon, another eminent personality at that period. and the mansion then housed the Chinese Residency for a point of time before it became a hotel, the Raffles-by-the-Sea. The hotel was a failure and had to be shut down.
Later on, Kee Yoon, who was a Hakka, collaborated with another millionaire Leong Fee to set up the Shih Chung School within Goh Chan Lau in the same year. Leong Fee, whose full name is Liang P’i Joo, also set up a girl’s school called P’i Joo Girls’ School which occupied the upper floor of Goh Chan Lau. In 1929 Shih Chung School was moved to Love Lane. By 1938, the school became so overcrowded that a branch had to be established and Goh Chan Lau became the choice destination again. From then on, Shih Chung existed as a main school and a branch school. The periods in between had the mansion leased to the Government Branch School.
During the Second World War,Goh Chan Lau was used as an administrative headquarters for the Japanese Military and therefore the branch school had to relocate to its main body. There the combined school co-existed until 1949, when the Shih Chung Branch School returned to occupy Goh Chan Lau. In 1961, the launch of the Uniform Salary Scale for Teachers saw the full severance of Shih Chung Main School from Shih Chung Branch School. The branch school again relocated, this time to its current premises at Sungai Nibong in year 2000, when the urbanisation of Penang Island brought forth a collapse in the population of the Inner City, hence a precipitous drop in student attendance. Goh Chan Lau was later sold by the Tye family trustee, when the restriction period in the will expired (after three generations). The building had been purchased by a new owner, Malaysia Vegetable Oil Refinery Sdn Bhd in 1993. Now an abandoned building, the new owner had initially planned to turn it into a columbarium (a place for the respectful and usually public storage of cinerary urns – i.e. urns holding a deceased’s cremated remains) but was met with harsh protest by the people of Penang. The site is apparently now set for demolition and a condominium built on the site.
An interesting point to note is that the Tye family trust was an early example of a Hakka family that left a will for the descendants, which provided that the family estate including the Goh Chan Laucannot be sold for at least three generations, and 10 per cent of estate revenue is to be donated for education purpose. It is Chinese belief that the estate of a family cannot be passed more than three generations or will be finished by the third generation. The will of the Tye family provides clauses to mitigate the risk on that belief and provided clauses in the will, that the family estate cannot be sold prior to three generations. It also provided for a clause that 10 per cent of estate revenue to be used for education purpose. This reflected the wisdom of the Tye family, and their trust was able to support the Chinese education in Penang for long time.
Passionate Photographer …. Lost in Asia
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